The Durham landmark which was almost as famous as the cathedral and castle

A familiar scene in bygone Durham with the police box in the foreground and Doggarts in the distance.
A familiar scene in bygone Durham with the police box in the foreground and Doggarts in the distance.
0
Have your say

Durham has many famous attractions. We all know about the cathedral and castle, as well as the big annual events such as the Big Meeting and the Durham Regatta.

But who remembers the attraction which was a familiar sight in the city centre until it finally disappeared in 1975?

The traffic control box in the centre of Durham City, with the Market Place in the background.

The traffic control box in the centre of Durham City, with the Market Place in the background.

We are talking about the police box which was in the Market Place and which was used to direct the traffic for decades.

Our nostalgic report in 1995, which took a 20-year anniversary look back on the days of the unusual attraction, called it “a landmark which gained an almost similar reputation” to the cathedral and castle.

The reason the box was there at all was so that it could “direct traffic through the cramped city centre”.

There to oversee it all would be a police officer, who would have control of the vehicles passing through Durham.

That officer would operate traffic lights to send vehicles on their way from Elvet, Claypath and Silver Street.

And one particular officer had particular reason to remember the police box when we interviewed him in 1995.

That was Pc Osborne, who was known as Ossie, and who would have been the man in the police box for 15 years.

He made sure the whole operation ran smoothly and that the traffic kept on flowing through Durham’s narrow streets.

Not only that, he was the last officer to carry out the duty before it was all transferred over to traffic wardens when he retired.

The powers-that-be decided that the operation was too much for one person to handle.

Instead, authorities brought in closed circuit television so whoever was in charge of the police box could have a view of the traffic in all directions.

That way, the traffic lights could be controlled in a way that allowed the flow to be much more regulated.

In a certain way, Durham was achieving a little bit of history, as this was the first time that closed circuit television had been used for traffic management.

By 1995, Ossie was 82 and still very much involved in the city, as he lived there, and lived less than a mile from his former beat with a difference.

Speaking to the Echo at the time, he said: “We were not given any specific training to operate the television in conjunction with the lights.

“But we soon got the hang of it, and it was a great help in getting traffic through the city centre.”

The need for a police box came to an end with the banning of traffic in Durham city centre during a time of change.

But what else was happening in the news back then, across Sunderland and County Durham?

One thousand schoolchildren aged 10 and 11 from church primary schools showed off their banner-making skills at Durham Cathedral.

Youngsters made banners with symbols of international co-operation such as the hands of friendship, doves and a rainbow.

Three Durham City students – Stephen and Richard Yates and their friend Jonathan Dunlop - did a 1,000-mile bike ride to raise more than £500 for charity, with £250 for the Red Cross and the rest split between Gilesgate Special Needs Group and Cancer Research.

And also in Durham, police were winning the fight against crime with the highest percentage fall in recorded offences since the reorganisation of police boundaries 20 years earlier.

Over in Sunderland, the illuminations were at the centre of the news, with fears that they could have the plug pulled on them because of Government cash cuts.

An 11th-hour rescue bid was launched to try to save them and traders were coming up with a rescue plan.

Also in the city, soft drinks manufacturer Villa, based at Southwick, was enjoying its busiest time of year, with production happening 24 hours a day over five days because Wearside was going through a heatwave.

Send us your memories of 1995 by emailing chris.cordner@jpress.co.uk